Owning a pet is so rewarding – it can help with anxiety and loneliness, boost your mood, fitness and social opportunities and even help children to learn life skills. But your four-legged (or finned or winged) friend comes at a financial cost, and as prices for basics such as fuel and food continue to rise, pet lovers may be really feeling the pinch.
According to animal charity the PDSA, the average dog could cost £30,800 over its lifetime. Initial start-up costs – the price of the dog itself plus all the accessories and vaccinations – vary according to breed, size and age, but are estimated to be between £4,600 and £7,000. This is followed by a monthly cost- to cover things such as food and insurance – of £50 to £70.
For cats, the average annual cost is around £1,000, according to Battersea Dogs & Cats home. And with the average cat living up to 18 years, you could be looking at a lifetime bill in excess of £18,000.
Despite this, more of us than ever are now pet owners – the latest data from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) suggests that 3.2 million people in the UK have acquired one since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and that in total, there are now 17 million UK households responsible for a total of 34 million pets.
With the cost of living on the rise, paying for our furry friends can feel difficult, but there are ways to stay on top of your spending while still ensuring your animal is safe and well cared for.
Food and treats
Choosing the right food for your pet can be difficult – there are so many different brands available that all claim to be the best choice for different reasons. The key thing is to ensure your pet is getting a well-balanced, species-appropriate diet. Blue Cross recommends looking for pet foods that are labelled “complete” and are approved by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
A spokesman for the charity added: “Remember, your dog doesn’t have an opinion as to which diet will suit them best. As natural scavengers, they are just happy to have their belly full. A high price tag also doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting the best food for your pup. As long as it’s complete, your pet will have everything they need.”
Doron Wolffberg, founder of allaboutcats.com, said: “Cats make amazing companions but raising them can be as affordable or expensive as your budget. If you don’t have enough money to lavish your cat with fine foods and gifts, don’t think that you’re a bad cat guardian. Almost everyone can afford a cat and can afford to raise them well.
“Know the difference between giving your cat the best and buying things because they make you feel like a good owner – there’s a whole world of cat care products that are not necessary.”
She added: “If you can afford it, spring for organic meats and foods, but if you can’t, remember that non-organic species-appropriate food is much better than organic food that doesn’t honour your cat’s carnivorous needs. Most cats are happy to eat a chunk of fresh chicken.
“A species-appropriate diet is the easiest, most affordable means of discouraging obesity, diabetes and feline lower urinary tract disease.”
Make your own treats
Nicola Tyrell, an expert at dog care website Buddy & Lola, suggests making your own treats as an alternative to expensive shop-bought ones.
She said: “Good quality dog treats are expensive to buy, but can be easily found at home. Buy liver from the supermarket, bake at 180°C for an hour and chop into small pieces for a healthy treat that lasts ages.
“Or use carrots, bananas, blueberries, natural yoghurt, kefir and leftover meats. Avoid grapes, onions, raisins, chocolate, corn on the cob, avocado, milk and salty foods.”
Another simple way to cut pet food costs is to buy in bulk. Author Sarah-Jane White, an animal behaviour and enrichment expert at pet lifestyle website Ruffle Snuffle, has been working with Perfect Pet Insurance to provide money-saving tips for pet owners. She said: “When you buy pet food in bulk, you can save a lot of money in the long run. Not only is it cheaper to purchase items in large quantities, but you also won’t have to run to the store as often, which means less time and money wasted on fuel.”
Buying in bulk
Graham Nicholls, head of pet insurance at More Than, added: “You can dramatically cut the cost of pet food in the long term if you buy it in bulk. It is important to bear in mind the freshness of the product though; a large bag for a small dog will go off and be less palatable, so bulk might mean offers on several small packs.”
Blue Cross supports pet owners and offers clinical services to those on means-tested benefits. The charity has also started to build a network of pet food banks across the UK, with sites already up and running in Sheffield, Manchester and Grimsby. Visit bluecross.org.uk/news/pet-food-banks for details.
In November, the RSPCA started a campaign for pet food donations after demand soared. The charity now works with about 40 traditional food banks to supply pet food for those who need it.
Insurance and health
One of the biggest expenses pet owners face is insurance. According to research conducted by pet finance site Gather, the average annual pet insurance premium has increased to £304.73 – a rise of 12.2 per cent since 2020 and 35.8 per cent over the past five years.
And it is important to remember that insurance does not cover things such as annual vaccinations and check-ups – these will still need to be paid for.
This can feel like a lot of money to find – and while you can usually pay for the premium monthly, this tends to increase the cost as most providers will add interest. However, the latest figures from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) show the average claim value across all pet policies was £817 in 2020 – significantly more than the cost of an annual insurance policy.
If your pet is badly injured, the vet bill can run into the thousands, however. The ABI says you will pay an average of £7,000 to treat a French bulldog with a fractured leg, or £5,000 to reattach two toes to a cat after they had been crushed.
Be sure to shop around
Greg Wilson, founder of pet insurance comparison website Quotezone.co.uk, said: “Pets don’t have the NHS to fall back on so a good pet insurance policy really is the best way to protect your furry friend and safeguard your finances.”
One of the best ways to save money on insurance is to shop around using a comparison website. The experts at pet finance site Gather also recommend you study the features of a policy very closely as you may be paying for extras you don’t need.
They suggest increasing your voluntary excess payments where possible, as this will reduce the annual policy cost, and if your pet doesn’t get sick, you will never have to pay for the excess anyway.
Andrew Nowell, CEO of PitPat, which makes tech products for dogs, advises: “One of the biggest costs pet owners face is vet bills. Pet insurance can seem like a big monthly expense, but you’ll be glad of it if you ever need to use it. Choosing the right insurer could save you in the long term – so look for a lifetime plan with a good amount of vet bill cover.”
Mr Nicholls, of More Than, also recommends shopping around for insurance – but advises customers to remember that existing health conditions are unlikely to be taken on by new providers.
He said: “If you own more than one pet, some insurers – including More Than – offer multi-pet discount. Existing policyholders could consider shopping around at renewal. However, it is important to note that although this might get you a cheaper premium, a new policy may come with an exclusion period and exclusions for existing conditions.”
Keeping your pet healthy
Prevention is better than cure, so keep your pet in good general health to try to reduce the risk of unexpected vet visits. Mr Nowell added: “Over 50 per cent of dogs are overweight, costing the UK insurance industry £0.5m per day. As a dog owner, you need to make sure that your dog is getting exactly the right amount of exercise and food to keep them in great shape.”
Bev Panter, marketing director of Rosewood Pet Products, said: “Keeping on top of your pet’s health can do wonders for mounting vet bills. Regular exercise by walking your dog at least once a day provides many health benefits, and it doesn’t cost a penny.
“You can also help to keep your cat active with a range of toys and cat scratchers to provide endless hours of fun.
“One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten is your pet’s dental health. You can find natural chews and hay for smaller pets, which will keep their teeth clean and healthy, as well as dental kits for bigger animals.”
Scott Mowbray, co-founder of money-saving app Snoop, said: “Make sure your pet is spayed or neutered when the time comes. If you’re unable to afford the cost, check out the financial assistance for cat owners on means-tested benefits from Cats Protection. The Blue Cross offers money towards treatments for some owners.”
Source medication online
Another top tip shared by many of the experts we spoke to was to buy prescription medications online. While you will need a vet to confirm the product and dosage required, you are not obliged to buy the medication from them direct – and there are now a number of discounted online pet prescription sites.
Mr Mowbray added: “There are plenty of websites that offer a good deal on general pet medication. So, don’t buy direct from the vet.
“Websites such as petdrugsonline.co.uk and petprescription.co.uk are some examples. You can buy Frontline to prevent cats getting fleas for £13, compared to £20-plus elsewhere. In general, discounts are about 50 per cent off the price you’d pay at the vets.”
Loyalty schemes and cashback sites
Look out for promotions from your favourite brands and retailers and sign up to loyalty schemes and mailing lists. Pets At Home, for example, runs a VIP puppy and kitten club. It’s free to join and benefits include 10 per cent off your first shop and a free month of flea treatment.
You can also claim cashback on most products bought online. TopCashback’s Abigail Yearley said: “TopCashback offers people savings and money back on everything they buy when clicking through the site to over 5,000 retailers.
“This includes a wide range of leading pet brands. Pets At Home, Petplan and Lily’s Kitchen are just some of the brands that pet owners will find on our site.
“Rates vary from brand to brand, but we have some great offers – including up to £100 cashback on pet insurance.”
Snoop’s Mr Mowbray added: “Check online for discount codes and cashback offers. It might also be worth looking at signing up to loyalty schemes. Zooplus.co.uk has its own loyalty scheme where you get a point for every pound you spend.”
Second-hand and sharing
For the big-ticket items, Brean Horne, personal finance expert at financial comparison website NerdWallet, recommends scouring the charity shops, Freecycle pages and Facebook Market Place.
She said: “For large items like pet carriers and pens, it may be worth shopping on secondhand websites. If you have friends, family or neighbours with pets, you could borrow items for a one-off trip.”
And instead of focusing on what your pet is costing you, Jon Ralph, founder of online community Your Dog’s Club, says people should try to consider the financial upside of pet ownership. “Yes, having a pet is a financial commitment. But have you ever considered that our dogs can actually save us money in other areas of our lives?” he says.
“From gym membership and therapy, to companionship and recreation, our companions enrich our lives in so many ways – not to mention the social benefits of all those people we meet thanks to our dogs.”